Food & Drink
Critics’ choice: Occasion dining in a jeans-and-sweater world
71Above Los Angeles
“As the great middle ground takes over dining, we’re left with an odd conundrum,” said Besha Rodell in LA Weekly. “Where can you go for a truly special occasion?” In Los Angeles, an answer has recently emerged high up in the U.S. Bank Tower. No matter where you sit in 71Above’s opulent dining room, you’re within range of floor-to-ceiling windows beyond which the city stretches out toward the Pacific “in all its twinkling glory.” Chef Vartan Abgaryan has risen to the room, with a $70 three-course prix fixe “engineered to feel fancy and modern but also to please a wide number of people.” Oysters poached in Champagne and topped with uni and caviar marry oldschool luxury and new. Classics like foie gras terrine share menu space with “decidedly modern” dishes like parsnips roasted in duck fat. “Some of the food here is nice rather than thrilling,” and the patronizing service and techno-lite music soundtrack feel dated. Even so, “there’s a lot to be said for a place that manages to feel truly special.” 633 W. 5th St., (213) 712-2683
Rainbow Lodge Houston
This century-old hunting lodge sits right now at a point of maximum appeal, said Alison Cook in the Houston Chronicle. Fall has always been the best time to experience the restaurant’s cozy log interior and “golden citrus-laden views,” and thanks to the return of chef Mark Schmidt, “the food is better than it has been in years.” There’s “something wonderfully autumnal” about Schmidt’s German-inflected Texican fare. He might pair grilled elk chop, “resiliently tender beneath its tight sear,” with rootvegetable enchiladas and tomato ancho mole. Pickled chard stems jolt to life a braised lamb shank served in a spicy pot sauce. “Impeccably grilled” sea scallops top a risotto charged by the addition of piquillo peppers and crumbly Italian blood sausage “So what’s not to like? Darn little, in my experience.” The wild-boar tacos were oversalted one day, but pheasant breast with spaetzle, apple, and radicchio was a triumph. With Schmidt back, the place has “vaulted beyond special-occasion status.” 2011 Ella Blvd., (713) 861-8666
M.C. Perkins Ogunquit, Maine
There’s nothing like combining “gourmet excitements” with one of the best restaurant views in the world, said Diane Hudson in Portland Monthly. The simple dining room at M.C. Perkins sits right on pretty Perkins Cove, so you can savor the colors of the sunset while contemplating the menu of James Beard Award–winning chef Clark Frasier. When we last visited, the chef himself delivered the prosciutto di Parma, its salty meat “delicately balanced with the sweetness of caramelized pears, tangy orange syrup, and mint leaves.” Maine mussels, served with fried shallots and fire-roasted onions in a rich cream broth, came next, and were so good we’d return for that dish alone. Duck confit with jasmine rice and bing cherries leapt out from the entrée list, but the lamb osso buco accented with gazpacho and basil pesto satisfied, too. In “a fitting finale to a memorable dining experience,” we shared a raspberry trifle as darkness deepened over the sea. 111 Perkins Cove Rd., (207) 646-6263
Wine: Thanksgiving whites
“You don’t have to spend a fortune to drink good wines at Thanksgiving,” said Nick Passmore in Forbes.com. Below are three winning whites, all $20 or under, that may not impress the sommelier in your family but will please everyone you might label an “interested wine aficionado.”
NV Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne ($20). This sparkling wine is an “effervescent delight”—and bigger and richer than Champagnes that cost twice its price.
2014 King Estates Acrobat Pinot Gris ($13). “The succulent combination of lush tropical fruit and restraining crispness” makes this Oregon pinot gris “the perfect partner for turkey.”
2014 Albert Seltz Riesling ($17). For affordable Rieslings that are rewardingly complex, look to Alsace. This wine is “dense, oily, and dripping with pineapples, mangoes, and ripe Comice pears.”
Recipe of the week
This holiday season, consider the pecan for something other than pie, said David Tanis in The New York Times. These savory cookies are packed with flavors—fresh sage, black pepper, and Parmesan—and studded with buttery, sweet pecans. They’re an “ideal nibble” with dry sherry or on a cheese board.
Savory pecan cookies
cups all-purpose flour • 1 tsp black pepper • 1 tsp kosher salt • 2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans • 1½ oz grated Parmesan (about 1 cup) • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil • 3 large eggs • coarse sea salt
• In a mixing bowl, combine flour, pepper, salt, sage, pecans, and Parmesan. Stir in oil and 2 beaten eggs; mix well. If dough seems crumbly, mix in 1 tbsp cold water.
• On a lightly floured work surface, knead dough until smooth, 1 or 2 minutes. Divide in half and form each half into a cylindrical roll 2 inches in diameter. Wrap cylinders tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
• Heat oven to 350. With a thin-bladed knife, slice cylinders into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to parchment-lined baking sheets. Beat remaining egg in a small bowl with 2 tbsp water. Paint cookies lightly with the egg wash; sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in batches for 10 to 12 minutes per sheet, until lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Makes about 30 cookies.